Lebanon News

Lebanese voice jaded expectations about formation of new Cabinet

BEIRUT: After a Cabinet was announced Monday, ending a five-month political deadlock, Lebanese offered a dismal appraisal of the new government’s ability to address the challenges facing the country.

“They will face political challenges, such as the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and Hezbollah’s weapons. This could lead the country into paralysis again, and the economic situation could deteriorate,” predicted Faten Sardouk, from the Beirut suburb of Jnah.

Nadia Frewaw said that she had lived through all of Lebanon’s wars and was “fed up,” adding that the Cabinet would fail because it isn’t a government of national unity.

“This government represents one party, which is clearly part of the Syrian-Iranian axis,” the 60-year-old teacher said, adding that “historically, Lebanon was successful in being impartial and defending just Arab causes.”

But she said the main problem with local politics was the lack of political programs. “Political parties don’t have social, economical programs in Lebanon, not like in other democracies.”

She called for a secular system, which she described as “the only way for people to make a choice based on programs and not religious affiliation.”

“There is no difference between this government and the previous one. The only thing is that this one can bring us problems from the international community,” she concluded, referring to the STL.

According to Julio Khater, a 29-year-old marketing agent in Beirut, no new Cabinet could accomplish much in the short term.

“A change cannot come in a year or two,” said Khater, adding that the problems in the country have been accumulating since the early days of the Civil War, which broke out in 1975.

But he also criticized the Cabinet makeup, arguing that some ministers are not qualified for their positions.

“When I look at the new names in the Cabinet, I see the same mistakes … For instance I am not sure the new telecommunications minister [Nicolas Sehnawi] is qualified for the position,” he said.

In Hamra, 26-year-old Mohammad Sabke agreed, saying the government was not “suitable.”

“That’s why some ministers have already resigned. After a month, we won’t have any ministers left and we’ll be back to where we started,” he said.

Many agreed with business student Joe Ghanem, who was pessimistic that the new Cabinet would be any different from previous ones.

“If politicians really cared about solving the problems in the country, they would have solved those problems 30 years ago,” he said.

“[Politicians] clash, and then agree to place their sons and daughters in the new Cabinet.”

Another student, Jessica Asaad, who was sitting at a cafe in Ashrafieh, was surprised to hear of the Cabinet’s formation. But her response to the news was, “So what?” adding that it wouldn’t make a difference to the Lebanese, who are accustomed to living without a government.

Like Asaad and Ghanem, many Lebanese seemed inclined to tar all politicians with the same brush.

“Nothing’s going to change; it’s been the same for ever,” said Manal Khoury, a 33-year-old who works in a pharmaceutical company in Hamra.

“We still don’t have electricity; how could I expect anything from them?” she asked, referring to politicians of all parties. “They should think about people’s basic needs: electricity, water, good salaries … but they just think about themselves and their money,” she added.

Ali Safidine, from Jnah, was similarly pessimistic.

“It will be like all other cabinets,” he said. “This Cabinet was only formed to fill up the vacuum they’ve created.”

“It will face many difficult economic challenges but I don’t think it will be able to overcome them since former cabinets were not able to,” he added.

For his part, Mahmoud Bashir, from the Beirut suburb of Roueis, said he believed the Cabinet would be successful in the sense that it would not collapse, but did not believe that it would be capable of overcoming political and economic challenges. “It was only formed to pass time,” he said.

“We ask the Cabinet not to distract the country with their personal disputes,” warned 68-year-old Youssef Jaber, from Jnah.

“They need to pay attention to the people’s living situation and the deteriorating and collapsing economic situation,” he added.

“Mary-Ann Awada, a 21-year-old student at the American University of Beirut, seemed completely disillusioned with politics.

“I have never heard of a successful Lebanese Cabinet let alone a successful one-sided one. I don’t think that the word ‘success’ and Lebanese politics will ever go together,” she said.

“I’d like to hope that this new Cabinet will be successful but ultimately I realize that it’s a naive hope because there will always be people not represented by the government,” added Awada, who is from Bir Hassan.

Mahmoud, a mechanical engineer who preferred not to give his last name, held a similar view. “There is no hope in such a country: a country of sects and sectarian leaders, a country in which people are led to the slaughter. May God help this country,” he said.

But some, like Awada’s 18-year-old sister Sarah, have not lost all hope.

“We’ve always faced political and economic challenges but hopefully this Cabinet will be able to overcome them and I feel that the situation is getting better. I’m very optimistic,” said the Lebanese American University student.

For Ashrafieh resident and taxi driver Elia Hashem, having a Cabinet would always be better than not having one. “Seeing is always better than being blind,” he said sarcastically.

Sleiman Salahidine, a 75-year-old salesman, was also cautiously optimistic, saying he was “very relieved” that the Cabinet was finally formed but “no one can know yet if the Cabinet will be successful. It needs time.”

But 50-year-old Chafi Seghman, who sells cigarettes in a street off Hamra, did not see any reason to worry.

When asked if he believed the new government could address the country’s problems, he answered “Problems, what problems? There are no problems in Lebanon. The country is doing great.” – Additional reporting by Van Meguerditchian

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 15, 2011, on page 3.




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